THE CLOAKS OF MATARIKI
Many different types of käkahu (cloaks) exist, and some are particularly
highly prized. Chiefly garments like korowai (tasselled cloaks) and kahu
huruhuru (feathered cloaks) convey the mana (prestige) of the wearer.
Such cloaks are worn during Matariki celebrations and on other important
occasions. Matariki could be considered the fashion week for käkahu!
The art of weaving is greatly respected. Woven into the designs and
details of cloaks are the stories of the weaver and their iwi (tribe). Other
designs can tell stories about the wearer and the purpose of the cloak’s
creation. In the past, most chiefly cloaks were given names.
This custom has been passed down through the generations and is alive
and well today among iwi throughout the country. Weavers are valued
not just for their skill but for the way in which their work weaves the
The käkahu of Ranginui (sky father)
and Papatüänuku (earth mother)
If we look above, we can see the käkahu of Ranginui twinkle in the night
sky. If we look below to the forests here on Earth, we can see the cloak
that keeps Papatüänuku warm.
When Rangi (sky father) and Papa (earth mother) were separated, their son
Täne (god of the forest) felt badly for his parents in their lonely nakedness.
So he clothed them. He clothed his father Rangi with the stars, the moon,
and the sun. He clothed his mother Papa in the warmth of the Great
Forest of Täne.
Kahu kurï – dog-skin cloaks
Kahu kurï are among the most treasured cloaks and a sign of the wearer’s
prestige. Few remain today because the kurï (Pacific dog) became extinct
in the 1800s. In the past, they were worn by leaders in war – the thickness
of the cloak‘s foundation acted like amour when immersed in water. The
hairs from the kurï’s tail were particularly highly prized because they were
the longest and most luscious.
Kaitaka – fine flax cloaks
Kaitaka (known to the people of the Whanganui River as parawai) are
unadorned by dog skin, tassels, or feathers. Their beauty is the result of
the weaver’s ability to create a silken foundation of the finest flax and
intricate patterns along the borders.